Australia joins military drills
Australian combat troops have for the first time taken part in annual US-South Korea joint military drills, a defense ministry spokesman said yesterday. The 18-member army unit joined a landing drill held near the southeastern city of Pohang as part of the Foal Eagle US-South Korea joint military exercise, the spokesman said. Australia is a member of the 16-nation UN Command, and fought alongside the nation during the Korean War against North Korea and China. Australian casualties in the 1950-1953 war numbered more than 1,500, of whom 340 were killed, according to the Australian War Memorial’s official Web site. Participation in the recent drill marked the first time combat troops from a UN Command member state had joined a US-South Korea joint exercise since the Korean War, the spokesman said.
Biden renews defense vows
Vice President Joe Biden on Friday renewed the vow to staunchly defend Japan after days of threats and rhetoric from North Korea, as he met Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso at the White House. The two men held talks at the White House and also discussed the nascent talks on a region wide Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, Biden’s office said. “The vice president and deputy prime minister agreed that North Korea must end its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and comply with its international obligations,” a statement said. “They discussed ways to further deepen our security cooperation. In this context, the vice president reaffirmed that the United States remains steadfast in its defense commitments to Japan, including the extended deterrence offered by the US nuclear umbrella.”
Grandma to appeal sentence
A British grandmother on death row for trafficking drugs into Bali will lodge an appeal with the highest court next week after losing a first bid to get the sentence lifted, her lawyer said on Friday. “We are going to send the notification that we are appealing to the Supreme Court next week, on Tuesday or Wednesday,” said Fadillah Agus, lawyer for Lindsay Sandiford. Sandiford was sentenced to death in January after cocaine with a street value of US$2.4 million was found in her suitcase as she arrived on the resort island in May last year, a shock verdict after prosecutors recommended 15 years. Police said she was at the center of a drugs-importing ring involving three other Britons — but the 56-year-old claimed she was forced to transport the drugs in order to protect her children whose safety was at stake.
Kidnappers free Frenchman
Kidnappers have freed a French executive, who they said had been mistakenly targeted, in exchange for an undisclosed ransom, the victim said on Friday. Francois Raphael, director of construction firm Henri Fraise, was held for three days by four balaclava-clad, armed men who abducted him on Monday evening. “I was released yesterday night at about 9:30pm, I got home all right,” he said by telephone on Friday. “A ransom was paid, but you will understand that we do not want to disclose the amount.” He did not see the faces of his abductors as he was blindfolded, and was held 50m from his home. The kidnappers had contacted his wife on Tuesday and apologized, saying they had wanted to kidnap the company’s chairman who is currently in New York.